|Name:||Robert Wallace Brownlee, Jr.|
|Unit:||Advisor Team 22, MACV|
|Date of Birth:||27 July 1921|
|Home of Record:||Chicago, IL|
|Date of Loss:||24 April 1972|
|Country of Loss:||South Vietnam|
Click coordinates to view maps
|Status in 1973:||Missing in Action|
|Other Personnel In Incident:||George W. Carter; Wade L. Ellen; James E. Hunsicker; Johnny M. Jones and Franklin Zollicoffer; (missing); Kenneth J. Yonan (remains returned)|
REMARKS: EVADED ACROSS DAK POKO RIVER
SYNOPSIS: On 23 April 1972, Capt. Kenneth J. Yonan was a member of Advisory Team 22, MACV and assigned as an advisor to the ARVN 42nd Regiment, Tanh Canh Base Camp, Kontum Province, South Vietnam.
That evening Capt. Yonan accompanied his ARVN counterpart to a water tower located on the northwestern edge of the Tanh Canh Base Camp compound near Dak To. The water tower doubled as an observation post. The base camp had been alerted to a large NVA build up on the region and they were expecting to be attacked.
At approximately 0530 hours on 24 April, Capt. Yonan was still in the water tower when communist forces attacked the camp perimeter with everything they had, including tanks. Although the tanks fired at and hit the water tower, two other advisors spoke to Capt. Yonan afterward. He reported that he was not wounded, and planned to join the other advisors when it was safe to do so. Radio contact was maintained with Yonan until 0730 hours. At that time Tanh Canh Base Camp was deemed no longer defendable and the other US advisors began escape and evasion (E&E) operations from the beleaguered compound.
Helicopters from the 57th Aviation Company, 52nd Aviation Battalion, 17th Aviation Group were dispatched to rescue as many of the base camp survivors as possible. The crew of one of these Huey helicopters (serial #69-15715) was comprised of Lt. James E. Hunsicker, pilot; WO Wade L. Ellen, co-pilot; SP4 Charles M. Lea, door gunner; and SP5 Ricky B. Bogle, crewchief. Also aboard the Huey was SP4 Franklin Zollicoffer, a medic from the US Army installation at Pleiku assigned to this flight to treat the wounded.
They were able to rescue Maj. George W. Carter, Maj. Julius G. Warmath and Capt. John P. Keller, who were all assigned to Advisory Team 22. They also rescued 1st Lt. Johnny M. Jones who was attached to the Advisory Team from the 57th Aviation Company, and Sgt. Walter H. Ward whose unit of assignment is unknown.
The Huey departed the base camp to the northwest. It was apparently struck by enemy ground fire because it crashed and burned on a small island in the Dak Poko River. The distance the Huey traveled before crashing was only about 500 meters, which was also the distance from the end of the dock on the island to the runway. Because of the rolling terrain, personnel at the airfield did not see the aircraft impact the ground. A pilot flying over the wreckage reported that the helicopter was burning and that he could see no survivors. It was later discovered that at least five people did survive the crash when they made their own way to safety. The survivors were Julius Warmath, John Keller, Ricky Bogle, Walter Ward and Charles Lea. The survivors reported that James Hunsicker, Wade Ellen (the pilot and co-pilot respectively), Franklin Zollicoffer (the medic), Johnny Jones and George Carter (both passengers) all dead in the crash.
Then Lt. Col. Robert W. Brownlee, a senior district advisor, and Capt. Charles W. Creen, were assigned to Team 22. The two Americans, along with Sgt. Cao Ky Chi, their ARVN interpreter; were located in a bunker near the airstrip approximately 4 kilometers to the west of the base camp. This location was known as "Dak To II."
The three men were forced to withdraw from the bunker under heavy enemy attack. They proceeded south of the compound and swam across the Dak Poko River. As they were fording the river, Capt. Creen and Sgt. Chi were swept downstream and were temporarily separated from Lt. Col. Brownlee. Robert Brownlee safely reached the south bank of the river and began climbing a hill.
From the top of the hill, Sgt. Chi heard the enemy call out to someone in Vietnamese to halt and raise his hands. Sgt. Chi observed an ARVN soldier approximately 100 meters away raise his hands. Sgt. Chi had no personal knowledge of the fate of Lt. Col. Brownlee. Capt. Creen and Sgt. Chi evaded capture and eventually made their way to safety.
Capt. Yonan never caught up with the other advisors as they attempted to evade capture. For three days, helicopter searches were conducted in the area of Tanh Canh Base Camp without success. A ground search of the camp and surrounding area was not possible due to the hostile threat in the area. At the time the formal rescue operation was terminated, Robert Brownlee and Kenneth Yonan were listed Missing in Action while George Carter, Wade Ellen, James Hunsicker, Johnny Jones and Franklin Zollicoffer were listed Killed in Action/Body Not Recovered.
Later an ARVN soldier, who was captured and subsequently released, reported that he talked to another ARVN prisoner who claimed to have witnessed Lt. Col. Brownlee's death. He was told that Lt. Col. Brownlee killed himself with his own pistol when communist soldiers told him to raise his hands. Another ARVN soldier provided the same hearsay information of Robert Brownlee's suicide.
In addition to the reports regarding Lt. Col. Brownlee's death, a South Vietnamese soldier reported he observed the capture of one "big" American from the camp. Another report described the capture of an American Captain stationed at the camp. Those reports could only be correlated to Kenneth Yonan. Capt. Yonan's status was immediately upgraded from Missing in Action to Prisoner of War.
On 6 April 1988, the Vietnamese "discovered" the remains of Kenneth Yonan and returned them to the US representatives without explanation in a spirit of stepped-up cooperation on the POW/MIA issue. Those remains were identified on 19 October 1988 and subsequently returned to his family for burial. While Kenneth Yonan's fate is finally resolved, there are no answers to the questions of when and how he died.
As for George Carter, Wade Ellen, James Hunsicker, Johnny Jones and Franklin Zollicoffer, if these men are dead as reported by survivors of the helicopter crash, there is no question the Vietnamese could return their remains any time they had the desire to do so. Each one of them has the right to have his remains returned to his family, friends and country.
If Robert Brownlee did commit suicide rather than surrender to the NVA, as the hearsay reports of his death indicate, the NVA absolutely can return his remains. However, if these reports of his death have no basis in fact, his fate like that of other Americans who remain unaccounted for in Southeast Asia, could be quite different.
Since the end of the Vietnam War well over 21,000 reports of American prisoners, missing and otherwise unaccounted for have been received by our government. Many of these reports document LIVE American Prisoners of War remaining captive throughout Southeast Asia TODAY.
American military men in Vietnam were call upon to fly and fight in many dangerous circumstances, and they were prepared to be wounded, killed or captured. It probably never occurred to them that they could be abandoned by the country they so proudly served.